Monday, September 23, 2013

Demographics by Seurat

A couple months ago, I came across a short writeup of the Racial Dot Map – a digital map on which researchers plotted the geographic location of every single person counted in the 2010 census. At the time, I hadn’t bothered to click through to the map itself. But for some reason I was in a demographic mood today.

Below is a section of the map centered on Lancaster city, where I live; click to enlarge. You can see the legend at the lower right: blue for white, green for black and so on. (Note that “Hispanic” is an origin, not a race: I believe anyone who self-identified as Hispanic, regardless of race, is flagged as orange.) Since we’re still zoomed out to some extent, we’re seeing smudges rather than individual dots. In case you’re curious about scale, by the way, it’s about 11.5 miles by car from Lancaster to Columbia.

Is this map surprising? That depends on how familiar you are with the region. Most people associate Lancaster County with the Amish, so I suspect the city’s large Hispanic population may occasion a few double-takes.  I certainly didn’t know about it before I moved here in 2007; I remember being floored when I first heard that the school district’s students are about 60 percent Latino. Countywide, the Hispanic population exceeds the Amish by 50 percent, according to recent estimates.

What you also see here is Lancaster County’s white suburban sprawl. Along the major arteries, housing developments have been replacing cornfields over the past few decades – putting considerable strain on those arteries, one might add. In this respect, Lancaster is not unlike many other parts of the country. 

If you go to the original map and zoom in all the way, you can see even more detail. It appears Lancaster has a couple of proto-Asian neighborhoods in the northeast. There's another smattering in the west suburbs, close to Lancaster General Health’s satellite campus, which makes me think they're likely medical professionals and their families. To the extent there’s a black neighborhood, it’s the north part of the city, but there are lots of other speckles mixed in; it's not homogenous. Harrisburg, by contrast, has a number of predominantly green – that is, black – neighborhoods, whereas the Hispanic population appears much smaller and less concentrated.

Check out your own town, and see how the demographics match up with your preconceptions and your understanding of local politics. It’s an interesting exercise. 

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